One day when Melanie Lundheim’s son was just 5 years old, she feared for his life.
“His upper lip was white, indicating a lack of oxygen,” described Lundheim, a Minnetonka resident. “It then started to swell up like a special effect in a movie.”
Soren, now 11, has peanut and tree nut allergies. Even trace amounts of peanuts or tree nuts– undetectable by the human eye– could trigger a life-threatening reaction, known as "anaphylaxis" to people with these allergies.
On the day of Soren’s first episode, Lunheim gave him his medication and called 911. Within seconds of receiving the epinephrine injection, his anaphylactic symptoms began to slowly subside. By the time the paramedics arrived, he was still red and puffy, but otherwise looking and breathing fine.
Lundheim and her husband, Andy, now have two children who attend in Minnetonka. Soren, is in fifth grade and their 9-year-old daughter, Tessa, is in third grade. Tessa also has peanut and tree nut allergies. Between the two children, they've had anaphylaxis requiring epinephrine injections five times.
The first and all subsequent incidences have been scary to the Lundheims, and they know first-hand that peanuts and tree nuts are a dangerous threat to allergic individuals and that symptoms and reactions vary by individual and by incident. But thankfully, they also know that the medicine works.
"Letting go" is a challenge for any parent, especially those who have children with special needs.
“Yet we know our children can't live in a bubble!” Lundheim said. “Before entrusting them in anyone's care, my husband and I take steps to ensure the adults in charge of them are willing and able to prevent, recognize and respond to anaphylaxis.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, peanut and tree nut allergies are an epidemic, tripling among U.S. children between 1997 and 2002, and accounting for most fatal and near-fatal anaphylactic reactions. While the cause of peanut and tree nut allergies is still unknown, there are several hypotheses, genetics being one of them. However, Melanie and Andy Lundheim have only mild seasonal and environmental allergies– like many adults today– and no allergies to foods.
The Lundheims became involved with Anaphylaxis and Food Allergy Association of Minnesota (AFAA) when their son was first diagnosed with peanut and tree nut allergies at age one.
The non-profit support organization's members include medical and education professionals, as well as city and state legislators. AFAA's accomplishments include legislation to require emergency access to epinephrine in ambulances and schools.
“Ever since attending our first AFAA support group meeting, we've remained in contact with AFAA Founder Nona Narvaez,” Lundheim said. “It gives us great comfort knowing that AFAA is always advocating for the safety of all children with food allergies.”
AFAA's annual Food Allergy Awareness Walk will take place on Saturday, March 24 at Mall of America– Macy's Court. Walk proceeds will benefit the organization's programs. Registration for the walk is available online. Check-in begins at 7 a.m., followed by the walk from 8-9 a.m. The event includes free entertainment, educational booths and allergen-safe foods.